April 2019 marks a milestone in my life, as 50 years ago I crossed the border as a landed immigrant to begin a new life on our treed property above Shuswap Lake.
The border guards must have chuckled when they saw us arrive in our 20-year old pick-up truck with my homemade camper that resembled a Conestoga wagon, two dogs, a cat and homesteading tools.
Here is an excerpt from the poem, At the Border, I wrote one year later:
Here I stand head in hand
I turn my face to the green mountains
Leaving behind that land filled with
Electric, antiseptic multi-component opponents
A product of United States Foreign Policy
Unable to make it with those people
I despised their evil ways
War over there, everywhere
If it had not been for the illegal and immoral Vietnam War, I might now be at the end of a university research and teaching career, but there were only two options in 1969, prison or Canada. We were also part of the “back-to-the-land” movement, well primed by reading the Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalogue.
Once we arrived at our small, rustic log cabin, it did not take long before the harsh realities of homesteading, starting a family and earning a living began to take the sheen off our ‘living in the wilderness’ fantasies. After making some crude furniture, building an outhouse and busting sod to make a garden in the small clearing in front of the cabin, I went to work at the local sawmill in order for us to survive.
Many of our hardships were self-imposed, including cutting firewood by hand with a bucksaw or crosscut saw. After four years, we had three children, two horses, goats, sheep and chickens. The winters tested us the most, melting snow for washing, hauling drinking water from the well, trying to keep warm with plastic on the windows, and using our horse to traverse the two mile long snow covered logging road to our vehicle for trips to town.
Overshadowing the hardships were the many fun times we had as more folks joined us on the hillside to homestead too. There were work parties and many get-togethers with homemade music and much laughter. We went on trail rides, had feasts and spent many a late summer afternoon at the beach. We had the most fun at our annual festivals complete with parades, kids games, volleyball, dancing and skits.
The passion that led me to the Shuswap carried on from the local community that developed on our hillside to many unique projects that served the larger community. From music promotion, to theatre, to local history writing and research, to decades of environmental advocacy and to writing and helping publish the first book about the Shuswap region.
Working the land has been a constant over the 50 years, in tune with the seasons. Growing organic fruit and vegetables helps keep us and some friends well fed all year long, thanks, in part, to our root cellar. In some ways, the vision in the end of my 1970 poem, Earth Sausage, has come to fruition:
In the now isolated country
Where the creeks still run true and the deer abound
A race of people
Once almost run extinct
By mindless plastic butchery
Now turn their heads
With the patient balanced rhythm that nature intended
They raise their crops and children together
Play music, dance, and sing together
And mould the dirt, clay and wood together
To build a together space in harmony with the land